Zero. Nada. Zip. It was a number that the Colorado School of Mines wanted to change. In 126 years, how many national championships had Mines athletic teams won? None.
Enter cross country coach Chris Siemers, a former all- American runner at Western State. Armed with a trio of top flight runners and a team that believed in his methods, Siemers turned out to be the guiding force in establishing a milestone in Mines history.
On November 21, 2015, in Joplin, Missouri, Mines erased the zero. Outstanding efforts by senior Marty Andrie, junior Nathanael Williams, and junior Dan Mahoney, plus gutty performances by freshman Grant Colligan and junior Seth Topper, allowed Mines to beat three-time defending NCAA Division II champ Adams State and collect their first big trophy.
The road to the title was not a simple one. Earlier in the season, the team put pressure on itself to win the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC) and NCAA Regional meets—coming up short both times. “Adams State crushed us at the regionals,” Andrie said. “It was not our best race.”
But that defeat may have fueled the team’s preparations for nationals, Siemers said. Plus, not everything went badly for Mines in those meets. Mahoney won the individual RMAC title, a first for Mines, and Williams took third. Andrie, Williams, and Mahoney finished 18th, 21st, and 22nd, respectively, at nationals to earn all-America status. The key to winning turned out to be the finishes of Colligan and Topper, the fourth and fifth runners in the Mines lineup. With the top five finishers contributing to the team score, Colligan took an impressive 33rd to become an all-American, and Topper grabbed 47th to clinch the victory.
Such improvement led to a dream fulfilled. “At the start of the season, our goal was to do something that’s never been done before,” said Siemers, a Chicago area native in his fourth season as Mines’ head coach. And his runners followed a regimen to success.
Siemers comes from a cross country family, and his brother Art coaches the team at Colorado State. An accomplished collegiate runner, Siemers has won the Denver Marathon, and his assistant coach Andrew Epperson—a two-time all-American for the Orediggers—qualified for the 2016 Olympic marathon trials in Los Angeles. “If you do exactly what Chris [Siemers] says, you’ll be good,” said Mahoney. “He’s invested in making you the best you can be. Sometimes it’s surprising how much you improve.”
Mines had the advantage of coming close to a national title previously. In 2012, it took second behind RMAC rival Adams State, and then placed fifth and fourth the next two years.
In Joplin, Missouri, a crowd of Mines supporters showed up waving their school flags, and more than 100 fans gathered at the Clear Creek Athletics Complex to greet the national champs on their return to campus. Given that they run all of their meets while they’re on the road, the cross country team doesn’t always get the fan backing that the higher-profile sports teams receive, but that day was one to cherish.
Andrie, the only senior, sees more success in the program’s future. “How cool would it be to have started a dynasty?”